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TPG reader Mark sent me an email to ask about airport lounge access:
“If I get an Admirals Club membership, do I have to be flying on American Airlines, or will a ticket on any airline get me in the door?”
Airlines offer a variety of options for accessing airport lounges, ranging from single-day passes to memberships that last a year or even more. Enrolling in a long-term plan can help lower the price on a per-visit basis, but it’s important to know the rules of admission before you sign up. Mark wants to know if he’ll be able to get into American Airlines lounges when he flies on another carrier; fortunately, the answer in most cases is yes.
American actually doesn’t require Admirals Club members to show a boarding pass for entry to domestic lounges; a membership card and photo ID will suffice. You do need a same-day boarding pass to access international locations, but it doesn’t matter which airline you’re flying. On the other hand, your carrier does matter when you use your membership to visit select third-party lounges (like the Qantas Club or Alaska Board Room). Also, passengers on eligible first or business-class itineraries (who don’t have a membership) must show an AA boarding pass to gain entry.
As for other domestic carriers, Delta Sky Club members must present a boarding pass valid for same-day travel, but that travel can be on any airline. Alaska Airlines has a similar policy for Board Room members. However, the recently added systemwide access to Admirals Club lounges requires that you be flying on either Alaska or American.
United doesn’t currently require United Club members to show their tickets at the door, though the terms and conditions specify that the airline “reserves the right to limit access and only allow entry to members with a same-day boarding pass.” That will become official policy as of August 18, 2016, when members will be required to show a valid boarding pass (on any airline).
Lounge memberships can certainly be useful, especially if you get a discount for having elite status. However, I don’t think paying for a membership outright is necessarily the best option. There are plenty of credit cards that offer lounge access either from a specific airline or within a network of lounges (or both). For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard comes with full Admirals Club membership, and recently began offering access to authorized users.
The Citi Prestige Card is another good option; it only gets you into the Admirals Club when you’re flying on American Airlines, but you also get Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you complimentary access to more than 850 lounges worldwide. The annual fees for these cards are roughly equal to the cost of a lounge membership, but you get lots of other benefits that can make them a better value overall.
Check out these posts for more info on the Admirals Club and lounge access in general:
- Top 10 Airport Lounges in the U.S. and How to Gain Access
- What It’s Like to Spend a Week at the Admirals Club
- Does My Airline Elite Status Come with Lounge Access?
- Check Out American Airlines’ Vastly Improved Airport Lounges
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.